The Real Mike Johnson Did Stand Up


It has been written and rewritten that six months ago Rep. Mike Johnson was a backbencher, unknown to much of the public outside his home state of Louisiana. So, when he became Speaker of the House, he faced a tough crowd all too anxious to pass judgement on him before there was any judgment to pass.

The media mostly concluded within days that only six years into his congressional career he was still a wet-behind-the-ears apprentice, wore a MAGA hat to bed at night, and was too captive to his religious beliefs to lead a secular Congress.

Even members of his Republican conference told the media, anonymously of course, that he was a “leader in name only,” and was having a “bad, very, very bad awful time leading the House Republican conference,” according to columnist Marc Theissen writing in the Washington Post.
What a difference six months make, eh, as my relatives north of the border would say.

In short order, Speaker Johnson planted his feet on tremoring ground and acted like a Speaker. He rose like the mythical phoenix from the ashes of chaos and total dysfunction in Congress (hyperbole is not for the timid). He prevented a government shutdown, won reauthorization of the Security Surveillance Act, got the appropriations process back on track, and won approval of critical aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Johnson also reopened the passageway between House Democrats and Republicans so that governing could actually take place. Continue reading

Campus Protest Comparisons Don’t Compare


I still remember lying awake in my bed for a long time, no air conditioning, only a slight breeze coming from a small window near the ceiling on a hot August night.

But it wasn’t the heat keeping me awake. It was the pop-pop-pop of gunfire that seemed to be coming from the San Diego Freeway just a mile or so away from where I was living on Evergreen Street in Inglewood, CA.

It was 59 years ago, August of 1965. A section of Los Angeles called Watts was up in smoke.
I’ve forgotten yesterday, but I remember yesteryear.

I was a tall, skinny 18-year-old kid fresh from my first year of college and my second time that far away from the Great Plains of South Dakota. I was working as a sheet metal apprentice on construction jobs around LA that summer with my dad, who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade and didn’t really know. Much to the unspoken dismay of my mother, who had devoted her life to getting my sister, brother, and me reared and educated in his absence, I had gotten on a TWA plane and headed West, so I could get to know my dad and stepmother and the big wide world outside Sioux Falls. Continue reading

Can Congress Be Fixed?


This first appeared in Katie Couric Media

Congress is broken and needs to be fixed…but there is a path forward.

Do you believe the federal government ought to be active or passive, bigger or smaller, weak or strong, socialist or anarchist, isolationist or internationalist — or somewhere in between?

Don’t dwell on it too long. Your opinion doesn’t matter. You know why?

Because the vast majority of those options can’t be transformed into public policy when government can’t function; and more to the point, if Congress can’t legislate. Which is exactly what’s happening now. Continue reading

The Putrid Politics of Immigration


There is no more glaring example of non-functioning government and the suffocating effect of ugly partisan politics than the illegal immigration crisis. It is a national humiliation. Immigration has been a cornerstone of our experiment in individual freedom over two centuries.

“The vast array and diversity of the people our way of life has beckoned here has helped mold the American character. It has also challenged what we stand for, what we strive to be. It is hard to calculate the benefits that flow from the American melting pot. But it is also hard to ignore the intractable problems that have spilled over the edges from unlawful entry. Now it has once again gotten away from us, out of our control.”

Those words are in quotation marks because I wrote them three years ago this April. Matters have only gotten horribly worse since then. The serious solutions proposed over the past two decades, if laid end-to-end would be, well, very long. But the courage to resolve the issues comes up very short. Continue reading

A Christmas Question for the Ages

BY JAY BRYANT |  DEC 24, 2023

“Why does Santa give rich kids more presents than poor kids?” the little girl asked.

From the mouths of babes, her grandfather thought. Of course, she had no idea of the complexity of the question. He knew the answer, and he didn’t want to take too long in telling it to her, for fear she would interpret his silence, though momentary, as confirmation of her worst fears.

That had happened to him before. In the most dramatic case, a businessman had asked a question on the telephone, a question for which the answer was far more complex than the man could have known. The grandfather, not yet a grandfather then, had hesitated, and the man had interjected, “I guess your silence tells me all I need to know.” That was certainly wrong, but it didn’t matter. The man had hung up, and the grandfather knew he had lost a lot of money and a friend in those few seconds of hesitation.

“Because,” he told the little girl, “Santa isn’t dealing in things, really. He’s dealing in happiness.” Continue reading

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble Translated: End the Political Rage


(Not to be confused with the Mike Johnson who is now the Speaker of the House, although I do go by Mike Johnson most of the time but use my full name when writing so not to be confused with another Mike Johnson who is a well-known lobbyist in Washington or was at one time. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I know how confusing keeping so many Mike Johnsons straight can be.)

And now we return you to: Gobble, Gobble, Gobble.

Thanksgiving is a holiday for family, friends, fellowship, and love, but most of all gratitude. Two years ago, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I wrote about this redeeming holiday just days away. What I wrote then, to my disappointment, is even more apt today.

Thanksgiving is a day—hopefully a season, not just a day—when we reflect on what in our lives is good, and how we got to this place 400 years after the feast that made turkeys fear for their lives thereafter.

Here is an updated version of that column, with a fervent hope that it won’t be relevant two years from now. Continue reading

The Pillars of Democracy


The Lincoln Memorial along the shores of the Potomac River was designed by architect Henry Bacon as a likeness to the Parthenon, the ancient Greek temple. The Parthenon had 25 beautiful columns forming its rectangular sides. Some of them are still standing today above Athens as a monument to the enduring legacy of what became the cradle of democracy. The Parthenon was constantly being restored after centuries of storms, wars, and revolutions.

The Lincoln Memorial, a contemporary replica of the Greek temple, has 36 columns, the number of states in the Union Lincoln preserved. They symbolize the pillars of our democratic Republic, the enduring civic and governmental institutions that have girded our system of governance. Those 36 pillars literally hold up the Lincoln Memorial just as those institutions figuratively support our system of governance.

The Lincoln is more than its legacy. The Memorial should be a constant reminder that our democratic Republic has faced serious and corrosive challenges before and the nation has counted on those institutions to preserve the very structure of the Union. Continue reading

“Not all Republicans are the same.”


Guess who said it.

You don’t like playing games? Okay. Okay.

If you watch the View, you would know. It was Whoopi Goldberg.

Say what!?

Yup. Whoopi. Ms. Goldberg got groans and guffaws from the audience when she said it, according to an account I read. She should have gotten oohs and ahhs. It was a pretty remarkable observation and brave, given the criticism that “all Republicans” engender, especially after the debacle over the Speakership of Kevin McCarthy and the ensuing mud fight to find a replacement. House Republicans finally settled on Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana (how can you go wrong with a name like that?) as the 56th Speaker of the House of Representatives. Continue reading

Remodel the Barn, Don’t Destroy It


These days we are being constantly reminded of legendary former House Speaker Sam Rayburn’s ageless admonition that any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a real good carpenter to build one.

Rayburn’s insight is apropos as the nation’s agenda remains blocked by Republicans fighting among themselves over the election of a new Speaker. The former Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was deposed on October 3 by a strange-bedfellows cabal of eight Republicans and 210 Democrats. The Republicans then nominated Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and it just took a day for him to accept his inevitable defeat by the full House.

Days later the next GOP nominee for Speaker, Ohio’s firebrand Jim Jordan discovered after two Floor votes that he, too, didn’t have the votes, short 20 and then 22 votes. The next chapter is being written as this is written. What will happen next will probably not be good. Continue reading

Saying Goodbye to Friends and Mentors and the Gifts They Gave


“Congress killed the federal aid to education bill and I don’t blame them. If there’s one thing those fellas have to worry about it’s educated voters.”

Trivia question: Was that quip made by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Will Rogers, George Carlin or Bob Orben?

Bob who?

Yes, Bob Orben. It was among thousands of funny lines written by Bob, one of the most prolific and sought after comedy writers of a bygone era. Bob died February 2, 2023, at the age of 95. He was a friend, colleague, and mentor during a surreal time in my life. He always had good advice: “Old people shouldn’t eat health food,” he quipped, “they need all the preservatives they can get.” A good friend of his was quoted in a newspaper obituary that “it probably wasn’t lost on him that he died on Groundhog Day.” Continue reading

‘Cannot See the Forest For the Trees’


‘Cannot See the Forest for the Trees’ is an old English idiom that the dictionary says dates back to the 16th Century. It describes a situation in which the bigger picture is overlooked because of a focus on detail.

It came to mind during the 4-day super-charged opening of the 118th Congress that ultimately resulted in the election of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker.

Twenty House Republicans turned the usually ritualistic formality into high drama. There was a dichotomy of motivations as Karl Rove pointed out in the Wall Street Journal today. Some of those members had a sincere if not passionate interest in rules changes that would open up the legislative process so that rank-and-file members had more influence over the flow of bills, resolutions, and amendments. There was merit in some of those changes, but not all. Karen Tumulty explored those worthwhile procedures in the Washington Post.

Others were making a power grab or just sticking it to Kevin McCarthy, who they consider a poor legislator and lacking in ideology or allegiance to their right-wing orthodoxy—distinguishable from conservative orthodoxy.

But the combatants really overlooked the forest for the trees. Continue reading

This Winter of Discontent. Time to Shovel Snow


The end of a Congress reminds me of those blinding winter blizzards of my youth on the Great Plains. There’s no visibility. Drivers can’t see the road signs and pedestrians stumble forward across snow drifts and invisible ice with their head down. When the snowstorm is over, there is left a path of destruction and a massive clean-up job in the offing.

The end of the 117th Congress is howling to its close. Members have been in a hurried and harried race to pass a massive piece of legislation to keep the government funded. It is more than 4,000 pages, a virtual blizzard of politics, partisanship, and legislative language that members have no time to plow through. They will vote—or have voted by now—with their heads down, and their eyes closed, not having read the bill. Okay, enough with the metaphors.

Congress will get passed what it can, the leaders will call the President to tell him the Congress is officially kaput, and members will declare victory of one kind or another and go home. Actually, as this is written many are rushing back to Washington to hear Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelenskyy address Congress. Continue reading

J6 Committee Wrong Path to the Right Place


The special committee probing the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol has slowed for the summer and so has the avalanche of media coverage that smothered the news cycle for months.

The coverage covered everything from the chilling stampede into the Capitol and the violence that ensued to the behind-the-scenes evidence of President Donald Trump’s culpability to the trivial but titillating tales of you-can’t-make-this-up behavior.

The protestors have been portrayed as wild-eyed insurrectionists. However, a good many of those who gathered in DC that day were not. To the contrary, according to a study by Harvard University, the vast majority were motivated by their loyalty to Trump and their misguided belief in the fraudulence of the 2020 elections.

But make no mistake about it, there was a hard core of hundreds of true insurrectionists stirring up rebellion, trying to stop a constitutional process of election certification, and worst of all, threatening Vice President Mike Pence and the members of Congress trapped inside the building. If their actions didn’t fit neatly into the Trump apologists’ legal definition of ‘insurrection’, so be it; their actions conveyed nothing less. It was a despicable spectacle; a black mark on the nation’s history. Continue reading

Time For A New Compact


English Pilgrims set sail for their New World in September of 1620. They must have been consumed by fear for their lives and trepidation about what lay ahead, yet they were propelled through their doubt by the promise of a better future and by their unbounded faith in God.

They started from the Dutch port city of Delfs-Haven on the good ship Speedwell, destined to write one of the opening and best known chapters of American history.

The trip didn’t go well.

The Speedwell only made it to England’s southern port of Southampton where it sprang a serious leak. It set sail again only to spring another leak. They made it to the port at Plymouth. There the passengers and freight were transferred to the sister ship Mayflower, bound for America (some accounts say the Speedwell was only intended to go as far as England to meet up with the Mayflower, while others indicate that both were headed across the Atlantic).

The 102 passengers and 37 crew members spent 66 days on the frigid seas of the North Atlantic, sick, hungry, cramped, and cold in the lower gun deck of a vessel designed to carry only lumber, fish, and French wine on short trips along the European coastline. The Mayflower was just 100 feet long and 24 feet wide. Of the 102, only 41 were considered true Pilgrims, seeking separation from the Church of England. The remainder were called “strangers”, merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants, and orphaned children. Continue reading

The Border Crisis Continues


There are anywhere from 19,000-60,000 more immigrants headed for the southern border of the US. In addition, immigrants recently deported to Haiti are ready to make another try at getting in here.

The crisis at our southern border isn’t going away. It is getting worse, and the Government has seemed helpless in trying to do something about it.

In September an estimated 30,000 migrants crossed into the country. Many of them forded the Rio Grande River and set up a makeshift encampment under the bridge connecting Mexico and the United States at Del Rio TX, hoping for an open gateway into their promised land.

Now they’re gone. All 30,00 of them. Half of them disappeared in a matter of a few days, along with the telltale signs of their squalid encampment. You would think you were watching a television sci-fi series. They were there at the beginning of the week and gone by the end of it. Poof!

“They want those people out from under that bridge so they can’t be seen anymore. It’s an optics thing,” unnamed Department of Homeland Security (HS) officials told the Washington Examiner. “They are moving them around for process and release. They’re going to have everyone at the bridge gone in the next two days.” Continue reading

The Creeping Crises


“A difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of crisis

Crisis is a term not to be used lightly.

There are more crises confronting the country than there have been in decades. Far from hyperbole, “crisis” fits like a glove on the resurgence of COVID-19, the humanitarian debacle at our southern border, and the record number of homicides on our streets, too many of which have put teenagers and small children in the bullseye. We’ve had record floods, record fires, record heat, record drought, all crises when you consider the number of related deaths, lives and property destroyed, and damage to the environment.

But there are several other crises that are in urgent need of serious attention because their consequences can be just as devastating to millions. They’re insidious, not the kind that bring eyeballs and clicks to news stories. They creep up slowly and are dismissed because no one knows how to fix them.

A perfect example is the Federal budget, over which Congress and the President are engaging in age-old partisan one-upmanship. We haven’t adopted a legitimate Federal budget in decades.

Budgets are gargantuan political and fiscal monstrosities that reach into every aspect of American life. They’re like the Titanic. If not designed, built, and steered with the skill of a seasoned seafarer, they will sink functional fiscal policy. Continue reading

Striking Elements of the 9/11 Anniversary


“Let me speak directly to veterans and people in uniform: The cause you pursued at the call of duty is the noblest America has to offer. You have shielded your fellow citizens from danger. You have defended the beliefs of your country and advanced the rights of the downtrodden. You have been the face of hope and mercy in dark places. You have been a force for good in the world. Nothing that has followed — nothing — can tarnish your honor or diminish your accomplishments. To you, and to the honored dead, our country is forever grateful.

“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people. When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem distant from our own. A malign force seems at work in our common life that turns every disagreement into an argument, and every argument into a clash of cultures. So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear, and resentment. That leaves us worried about our nation and our future together.

“I come without explanations or solutions. I can only tell you what I have seen. On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another. That is the America I know.

“At a time when religious bigotry might have flowed freely, I saw Americans reject prejudice and embrace people of Muslim faith. That is the nation I know. At a time when nativism could have stirred hatred and violence against people perceived as outsiders, I saw Americans reaffirm their welcome to immigrants and refugees. That is the nation I know. At a time when some viewed the rising generation as individualistic and decadent, I saw young people embrace an ethic of service and rise to selfless action. That is the nation I know.

“This is not mere nostalgia; it is the truest version of ourselves. It is what we have been — and what we can be again.”
George W. Bush speaking in Shanksville, PA 9/11/21

The commemoration of 9/11 is already fading from memory. It is inevitable in a society in which experiences come and go in nanoseconds, not long enough for us to reflect on them, but some aspects of the attack and its aftermath are worth holding on to. Continue reading

Immigration: A Checkered Past, a Challenging Future


Part II of II — Read Part I

On the first day of the new year 1892, Annie Moore, a teenager from County Cork, Ireland, became the first immigrant admitted to the US through Ellis Island. It was the day the new gateway to a new world opened to an old world of people with hope in their hearts of a bright future. After a 10-day ocean crossing from her native land, Annie was welcomed by immigration officials and given a ten-dollar gold piece.

She was among 700 immigrants, including two brothers, who passed through the Island that day and among 450,000 admitted in that first year of operation. She and her brothers were soon reunited with their parents, already in New York.

Before Ellis Island was closed in 1954, more than 12 million people from all over the globe—Russia, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, and others—made their way through Ellis in a never-ending stream of humanity. They came in search of something better than the poverty, famine, economic depression, dislocation, or religious persecution in their homeland. Continue reading

President Jerry Ford Saved 130,000 South Vietnamese Lives


Originally published in The North State Journal

The past two weeks in Afghanistan have been an unnecessary and unmitigated humanitarian and geopolitical disaster.

It didn’t have to be this way. President Biden and his national security team appeared to be totally flummoxed when they tried to explain how the withdrawal of troops, American citizens, and Afghani sympathizers became so chaotic under their watch.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin somewhat unbelievably said American military forces did not have the capability to go outside of the Kabul airport to get all of the estimated 11,000 Americans safely out of Kabul. There was hardly any talk about how this administration and national security leaders were going to evacuate the estimated 250,000 Afghani U.S. sympathizers who were translators, spies, drivers, informants, and subcontractors who are now in danger of being executed by the Taliban. Continue reading

Illegal Immigration Worsens in Cloud of Political Smoke


Part I of II

“A couple of days ago I was down in Mexico and I said look, you know, if, if our borders are the first line of defense, we’re going to lose and this is unsustainable…We can’t continue like this, our people in the field can’t continue and our system isn’t built for it.”
Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, quoted from a leaked tape recording of a private meeting with border patrol agents in Texas, August 12, 2021

You have to appreciate the Secretary’s candor, even if in private. While he has intimated as much in his public statements after touring the border, this is the most honest assessment we’ve had from anyone in the Biden Administration.

While the White House grapples with the unmitigated disaster unfolding in Afghanistan it should also not diminish the priority of dealing with another unfolding disaster on our southern border.

It’s about time that someone senior in the Administration said what most Americans have known for a long time. The President and his underlings, including the Secretary and a good many progressive members of Congress, have been in public denial about the chronic crisis on our border. The propaganda, the almost comical prohibitions against the use of certain words in describing events there, the refusal to support enforcement of our immigration and criminal laws have gone on long enough. Continue reading